$14 million Harford budget cut proposed

April 11, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Saying Harford's executive needs to work harder to trim fat from the county's operating budget, Councilman Robert S. Wagner has proposed slashing $14 million from the proposed $162.8 million spending plan.

"Businesses around the country are slimming down or shutting down. There's no reason Harford can't hold costs down," Mr. Wagner said.

"Everyone is always saying reduce government spending, reduce government spending. Let's do it. We can operate efficiently and move forward and still cut the budget."

But Mr. Wagner, a District E Republican, offered no specifics on how the council could cut $14 million from County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's fiscal 1994 budget for day-to-day expenses.

The budget, which the executive has called "no-frills," would increase spending nearly 10 percent over the current $148.2 million budget and includes 3 percent across-the-board raises for 5,000 county employees.

Mr. Wagner said the county trimmed 2.5 percent from nearly every department this year because of state budget cuts but restored that money in the proposed 1994 budget.

"That proves to me there is fat in the budget," he said. "If we can cut that amount this year we can cut at least that much next year."

But George Harrison, county spokesman, said the 2.5 percentcuts have to be made up in fiscal 1994's budget because essentials, like employee training, need to be restored.

The county lost about $7.5 million in state funding this fiscal year.

Mr. Wagner said he would not vote to cut the $3 million budgeted for the Fire and Rescue Department.

The council can add but not cut the $87 million proposed for schools and can cut but not add to other departments.

Mr. Wagner also wants to hold spending increases to 1 percent (( on the county's three other operating budgets: the $16.9 million highway fund, which would increase spending 8 percent; the $14.5 million water and sewer fund, up 7 percent; and the $7.8 million solid waste fund, up 3 percent.

He said he would not seek to trim the county's $96.3 million

capital budget for construction projects.

Mr. Wagner introduced his amendment, which would require majority council support, on Thursday at the council's first budget work session. The council has until May 31 to approve a county budget.

Joanne Parrott, a District B Republican, said departments still reeling from past cuts, including libraries and the health department, could ill afford cutbacks.

"When I look at Mrs. Rehrmann's budget, I see a bare-bones budget," she said. "I don't believe we can make any cuts without first hearing the departments justify their requests at our work sessions."

At work sessions, the council scrutinizes the budget line-by-line, but Mr. Wagner suggested the county could better control costs by providing departments bottom lines and letting them decide spending.

Mr. Harrison said the county's budget covers only the barest essentials and that Mrs. Rehrmann can justify every penny.

"Every line of the budget means something, and you can't make a blanket cut without understanding where the money goes," he said.

Mr. Harrison said about 75 percent of the $18 million increase in the general fund operating budget is for a county employee wage package.

About $6.6 million would be spent on 3 percent cost-of-living and merit increases for the county's 5,000 employees, most of whom have had no raises for three years, he said. Some $6 million must be used to pay Social Security costs the state refused to pay starting this fiscal year and $1.1 million is for increased health insurance costs.

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